Do schools conceal violent incidents and threats to avoid negative press and parent outrage?

over (Medium)Among the extended family I saw over the holiday was a young relative who is working as a substitute teacher in the Northeast since he can’t find a full-time teaching post. He shared a story that surprised me, and I wanted to run it by folks here.

He was subbing at a low-performing high school that recently had a well-publicized stabbing. A student in his class pulled what he thought was a real gun on him, and they had a standoff for several minutes until the teen put the “gun” away and the teacher tackled him to the floor. It turned out the gun was a toy, and the student received a three-day suspension for the incident.

The substitute teacher was disappointed with the punishment, but said the school wanted to prevent another round of negative press.

Would such an incident be kept quiet in Georgia? Could it go so easily unreported under zero tolerance policies in which students can get suspended for Tweety Bird key chains?

And speaking of keeping things quiet, I heard about two Atlanta high schools being on lock down the week before Thanksgiving due to terrorist threats.  Apparently, parents at Grady and the New Schools of Carver were not informed of the threats. The person who mentioned it to me felt the incidents spotlighted a troubling lack of coordination between APS and Atlanta Police.

I plan to ask APS about this Monday. Did anyone in either school community get formal notification of these threats?

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

139 comments Add your comment

drew (former teacher)

November 27th, 2011
9:03 am

Of course incidents like this are concealed. You have to remember, where schools are concerned, it’s ALL about “appearance”. Like a few years ago when a local county superintendent gathered all of her principals together at the beginning of the school year and told them she wanted to see a 10% reduction in office referrals. And just like that, discipline improved by 10%!

carlosgvv

November 27th, 2011
9:06 am

Maureen, we live in increasingly politically correct times. So, don’t look for any truthful explanatations for this from the authorities, and, do look for this kind of behavior to increase.

drew (former teacher)

November 27th, 2011
9:10 am

Just like the recent cheating scandals…had it not been exposed, the students would have “appeared” to have made significant gains. School systems don’t really care if legitimate gains were made….as long as it “appears” that gains were made.

D. Robinson

November 27th, 2011
9:12 am

Ms. Downey:

Tapp Middle School in Powder Springs is a perfect example of a low achieving school that routinely conceals incidents of violence from parents and the community. From my wife 9a former educator there), I have received eyewitness accounts of high achieving, well behaved students being bullied and attacked, a teacher being beaten while trying to intervene when four girls jumped one girl, and another educator required medical attention after she was assualted. We encourage you to bring this issue to light. It would be of great value and assistance to our community.

April

November 27th, 2011
9:14 am

There should be zero tolerance for schools that do not communicate potentially dangerous environments for our children. If the greater concern is negative press over the safety of schools we have another huge problem on our hands. What is the solution? Should school administration be vetted based on the academic performance and safety of previous school positions they’ve held? Do parents need to keep principals, AJC and school board leaders on speed dial to ensure there’s accountability?

Dr. John Trotter

November 27th, 2011
9:32 am

Of course this occurs, Maureen. Bless your heart. You still seem to want to view all things “educational” from rose-colored glasses. Atlanta and DeKalb in particular — systems, by the way, which MACE has publicly described as “gangsta school systems” for years — have swept under the proverbial rug all kinds of violent behaviors, including the wielding of weapons. If you don’t report the egregious conduct, then the public can be fooled into thinking that discipline has actually improved.

The Drew poster talked about a former superintendent who simply issued a fiat to the administrators to reduce the suspensions. It happened. Yes, it was Barbara Pulliam in Clayton County. It happened around the time that three or four students jumped on and beat up a teacher at Forest Park High School. I remember about time MACE picketing at Forest Park High School concerning this situation with the violence and the superintendent’s unconscionable edict. The AJC’s sister company, WSB-TV2, happened to be at the school that day and carried the picket on the evening news.

By the way, I see that Karen Waldon is on the front page of the AJC this morning. Hmm. Through the years, we have only picketed one time in Henry County…at Austin Road Middle School when Waldon was principal. Enough said?

Very Passionate About Our Schools

November 27th, 2011
9:33 am

It also happens on the school buses and the drivers do nothing – they don’t want to get involved and won’t unless a parent goes to the principal, school board and superintendent’s office – then the drivers are called on the carpet over it and keeping it quiet.

Hidden

November 27th, 2011
9:51 am

Yes, and this practice happens everywhere, so I disagree with those who say it’s about political correctness and/or underachieving schools. If anything, schools in wealthier/higher-performing areas are better at cover-ups and engage in them more often.
Last year at least one North Fulton school was on lock-down twice due to threats. Later, a couple of others experienced what may have been copy-cat events; all of it kept very quiet. They have also tried to squelch stories related to abuse of disabled kids the principal arrested for assault. And, why not? Many parents, especially in affluent areas, are more concerned about appearances. Their schools have their tacit approval and cooperation. What parents want is to receive personal, quiet notification without anyone outside of their community learning any details.
(Sshhhh! I can’t believe you asked!)

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

November 27th, 2011
9:57 am

Dr Trotter: The only reason I can’t be sure you’re right about where that was is that I’d bet it could be most places. Certainly happened in the systems I’ve seen, even the better system where I am now. Why is there such a reluctance from systems to correct behaviours? I hear from some administrators who are willing to talk to me that there’s such a culture of fear among boards and superintendents concerning lawsuits. Surely, lawmakers and judges have to be aware of the kinds of people in these schools – or is it that folks who don’t see it up close and personal figure “it’s just kids”? What do people want me, as a classroom teacher, to do about a disruptive and/or unstable kid in class with your kid? Now the harder question – what do you want me to do if YOUR kid is the disruptive one?

Another Math Teacher

November 27th, 2011
10:00 am

“Do schools conceal violent incidents and threats to avoid negative press and parent outrage?”

Is that a serious question? The school I was at concealed many things, even from teachers. They kept a beating from us for months – until a youtube video was publicized.

Another category: sex. There have been 6 instances of a teacher ‘dating’ a student in the last 5 years at the school I at which I worked. One has been made public by the news but not the school. Two teachers had their certificates suspended for two years and left without charges. One was non-renewed. Two left for other systems. One is under arrest. (The one that the news knows about.)

Want to improve discipline? Toss discipline notices in the trash. Teachers realize nothing will happen and stop writing them. Problem solved!

Concerned Citizen

November 27th, 2011
10:00 am

Maureen, If you want a real story, check out what’s going on in Bibb County. MACE can give you some of the story, their compiling a list of teacher concerns. Hiding violent behaviors is only the tip of the iceberg with their new superintendent. There is fighting, grade inflation, illegal hiring practices, etc. There’s a gold mine of a story just waiting to unfold for a journalist brave enough to make it happen. Unfortunately, there are no real journalists left in Macon (or they are too scared to do anything).

yes i am worried

November 27th, 2011
10:01 am

Yes — they do.

Concerned Citizen

November 27th, 2011
10:01 am

Sorry, they’re, not their. Holiday weekend got the grammar.

Dr. John Trotter

November 27th, 2011
10:05 am

Hey Guys: I know that it happens “all over.” I said that it happens “in particular” in Atlanta and DeKalb. I also know that systematic cheating happens “all over.” But, it happens “in particular” in Atlanta and DeKalb. I have never been one who worries “in particular” about being politcally correct.

Dr. John Trotter

November 27th, 2011
10:08 am

@ Concerned Citizen: If I am not mistaking, I think that Mr. Haynes & Crew at MACE are planning an up-coming trip to Macon. I think that I will be visiting too. We might even picket the superintendent on Mulberry Street. Ha! I wonder if the Macon Telegraph (located right around the corner) will cover the picket.

Ronin

November 27th, 2011
10:10 am

Be it violence or drug related activity. Many things happen that don’t make it to the front office or the newspaper. If an incident can be handled without a formal reprimand and the paperwork that goes along with it, so be it. There is no paper trail and everything looks better on on a monthly/yearly report.

The behavior in schools is a microcosm of the dysfunction in our society as a whole. I just returned from Jamaica, which is a third world country, yet all the children attend school in uniforms and the general attitude to education is superior to many areas in the United States. Most Jamaican students appreciate the opportunity to learn and don’t feel that the education process inhibits their social time, or time on their i-pod or smart phone, as they don’t have one.

mountain man

November 27th, 2011
10:15 am

Three days suspension for pulling a “gun” on a teacher? That should have been expulsion from the school system – forever. Probably jail time, too. A student that would do that would pull a real gun, and pull the trigger,

Concerned Parent

November 27th, 2011
10:16 am

School safety and violations have long been swept under the rug. To have too many incidences would warrant a school being placed on the “Unsafe School” list with the state. (Which could ultimately allow for school choice and effect funding allocation) Also, all schools must have an Emergency Preparedness Plan, and practice those codes Red, Yellow, and so forth. This doesn’t happen, nor is communication sent home by school officials regarding code calls or lockdowns. I dare say there is one school in the entire state that is PROACTIVE in safety and are more REACTIVE in all knee jerk reactions to such.

We had a student bring a pistol (unloaded) to school and it was hidden under a piece of furniture for a week, until others came forward that knew. Our parents never got notices, the student was expelled, the gun belonged to the parent. When I found out and did some research, I attended the next school board meeting and told our elected officials and Superintendent exactly what I thought and reminded them that Justice is not Justice if you are dead. I wish I had videoed their reaction, they were speechless that someone knew a little more than they thought parents did. End of story. Thank God not another Columbine, as many other schools have escaped relatively the same instances.

Do we want to mention that the schools received funds from the Safe School and Drug Free Grants? How we spend thousands of dollars in tax money to install security camera and yet, no one monitors them or the images are captured in digital increments of 10-15 seconds? Then there is the DOJ COPS in School grant programs that we can utilize if approved. Usually these grants come with terms such as paying for an officers (entry level) salary for three years with the fourth year being paid by the school system. It reminds me of double taxation, and supplanting of funds, because when this is done, your schools system is “buying” a slice of the pie. Therefore things are KEPT QUIET.

CLM72

November 27th, 2011
10:17 am

Concerned Citizen…you are dead on about the troubles brewing in Macon – Bibb County Schools are sitting on a powder keg while playing with a flint stone. Their new superintendent is a doozie…

Lots and lots of crazy stuff is swept under the rug in the schools, from issues of violence to teacher concerns about educational decisions. Principals DO NOT WANT any negative attention, whether from the press, parents, or (especially) the COUNTY OFFICE………

chatarri

November 27th, 2011
10:18 am

This is what taking discipline out of the teachers hands has rendered. That, along with tying money to test scores. The final blow – parents who don’t parent or get involved with their kids education – who believe every thing the students say and do not support the teachers. Students need to be “ability grouped” – we’re creating mediocracy by lumping them all together. Why don’t you investigate the number of students who have IEP’s & what a drain that actually is on the system?

Of Course

November 27th, 2011
10:31 am

A kid brought a gun to Fulton Science Academy this past fall. It was kept very quiet, but it happened.

Ole Guy

November 27th, 2011
10:46 am

BRING BACK THE WOOD! It worked just fine for over 200 years; now that we have become obsessed with pleasing the pc gods, all hell, on all fronts, breaks loose. And don’t nobody start in with the “you’ve gotta educate yourself on today’s realities” crap. Every time I read that reply, I read the reply of a loser mentality…a society too damn scared…scared of eachother, themselves, their kids…to do the right thing. Far better to do the EASY things/the POPULAR things, than risk being the boogy man. You people who claim expertise in the education circus should be ashamed.

Ronin’s observations of that (so-called) 3rd world country spell out one truism which has all but ruined the Red White and Blue…WE GIVE THESE DAMN KIDS TOO DAMN MUCH AND WE EXPECT TOO DAMN LITTLE, IF ANYTHING, IN RETURN.

When people, WITH GUTS, DISCIPLINE AND FORTITUE, step up to the plate, we just might see the beginings of a slow recovery. Until then, we’ll continue to see more of the same crap: idiot kids, with idiot parents, who cannot count on their fingers without the motivation of instant reward, kids who don’t have the internal drive to educate themselves, kids, AND ADULTS, who can’t conduct themselves within a society.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE WOOD!

Ole Guy

November 27th, 2011
10:53 am

Take a close look at that figure at the top right of this page…a (presumably) teacher hiding behind the desk. That sad figure spell the entire sorry picture. Keep on complaining, pontificating, and a few other things too foul for polite company.

Jimmy

November 27th, 2011
10:56 am

I have stories from a county east of Atlanta that would curl your toes. And what makes it worse is the principal of one of the high schools had a fling with the associate super and got pregnant and now they are married, so essentially she can get away with it easier now. She swept a lot of stuff under the rug and forced several teachers out who didn’t “follow the party line.” There were threats against teachers, teachers having affairs with students, cheating on standardized tests, gang violence, weapons and drugs rampant on campus….. all swept under the rug because of image.

Dunwoody Mom

November 27th, 2011
11:04 am

In this world of smartphones, twitter and Facebook, I would imaging it would be hard to conceal this. Students would certainly take pictures or film such incidents.

Jimmy

November 27th, 2011
11:13 am

Interesting that you bring that up, because that is one of the FIRST and only things administrators address. I have seen numerous brawls at school, and the only people who are punished are the ones who record it on their phones. I witnessed a huge fight between two students waiting for the buses and after the fight was broken up the two students were put on their buses but the students who recorded it were escorted by the cop to the office so they could seize the phones, view and delete the content, The word is out that if you record and/or post incidents your punishment is MUCH worse that someone who actually commits the major offenses.

@dunwoodymom

November 27th, 2011
11:13 am

I’ve heard stories from parents called to come pick up their child’s phone after these types of incidents, some occurring at school and some not. Even when things happen during private time/private property, some schools are bringing students into the office and demanding to read texts, see photos and video…of any incident where the child has knowledge or a friendship, having participated or not. I’ve also been told some administrators demand that students make a written statement (!) without parent or counsel available to them. Now, there’s a scandal in the making. Frightened and intimidated parents keep quiet so their students don’t suffer further retaliation or embarrassment.

iTeach

November 27th, 2011
11:38 am

Four out of six years I taught at a top North Fulton affluent high school, the following events occurred:
–A teacher resigned for having drugs in his car (he is currently teaching in another county)
–A teacher had inappropriate relations with another student (2 different teachers, two consecutive years)!
–A former principal had two formal complaints filed against her, only to “retire” the following year
–Another former principal “resigned” (cough)- was demoted – to an Assistant Principal somewhere else in the county after he realized he couldn’t handle his principalship for only 6 MONTHS!
– The current principal (a former Assistant Principal who was not recommended by the teachers and PTSA) is working very hard to boost low teacher morale – as she is the fifth principal in a school that has only been open for eight years.

I suspect when Cambridge HS will open next year, the remaining teachers will flock to charter the new school. Myself and other teachers have already left- willingly. Many more will follow.

Does anyone else see a problem here? Why hasn’t the AJC published a story about the inner corruption in the supposedly fabulous North Fulton Schools?

Lee

November 27th, 2011
11:38 am

“Would such an incident be kept quiet in Georgia? Could it under our zero tolerance policies where students get suspended for Tweety Bird key chains?”

Nice try, Maureen. Although, when we blog about the Tweety Bird incident, it is ususally in the context of poor judgement by administrators – not how they are getting tough on discipline.

Probably the most common form of violent incident cover-up occurs when one student is attacked by another and defends themself. School officials do not try to ascertain facts about the incident and just call it a “fight” and suspend both students for three days. Three day suspension falls below the requirements of a tribunal and the victim is railroaded into a punishment they didn’t deserve. But, the school avoided recording an incident that would count toward getting them classified as a “dangerous” school. Too many of those and administrators get moved.

In the end, the non-aggressor student get victimized twice. Once by the attacker and again by the school.

kitty

November 27th, 2011
11:46 am

Yep, I believe all of that. Worked in a school where young boy kept biting, spitting, kicking teacher/paraprofessionals. They had to continue to put up with it till the child committed these acts against the principal. That is when student got suspended. Allowed back to school — continued behavior by becoming violent towards teachers, you guessed it, lashed out at principal. Suspended again. Students & teachers need protection against these sociopaths. All of a sudden, they are older and the parents pretend they don’t know about previous misbehavior. Schools are not doing anyone any favors by turning their heads.

Maureen Downey

November 27th, 2011
11:50 am

@Dunwoody, Given the omnipresence of cell phones with cameras and video and the instant reach of Twitter, I am not surprised that schools don’t report incidents, but I am surprised that the students themselves don’t spread the word. It would seem nearly impossible for a school to conceal a hallway fight or classroom brawl if more than three students were present.
Maureen
(I am interested in the comments here that schools are confiscating phones to prevent video from airing — but I wonder if part of that is the desire not to see the stuff on YouTube where kids could make cruel and idiotic comments, such as the kids did earlier this month from Westlake High. I will talk to the news folks about this issue.)

Maureen Downey

November 27th, 2011
11:56 am

@jimmy, Which system?
Maureen

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

November 27th, 2011
12:02 pm

After these posts I went to try to find stuff. Before Thanksgiving break, we had 29 fights (I know, that’s a lot). Searched youtube, google, twitter, and facebook. Found one video from two years ago that might be from our HS (similar name in another state). So, they are successfully keeping it off – but how? I certainly may not be the best at navigating FB and Twitter, but I was surprised to find nothing.

Larry Major

November 27th, 2011
12:04 pm

It doesn’t matter that the gun wasn’t real; it is still a weapon if it is used to make a threat, and THAT is a felony.

So, how did this school hush up the police report?

Maureen Downey

November 27th, 2011
12:12 pm

@Larry, It was not reported to the police.
Maureen

Digger

November 27th, 2011
12:17 pm

Administrators are scared to death of appearing racist so they want no paper trail documenting certain groups’ disruptive behavior. Teachers are left to deal with it in the classrooms, which drags achievement down for everyone. And here we are! Dumb and dumber!

K

November 27th, 2011
12:20 pm

From what I’ve heard at the elementary level part of the problem is that when these kids get suspended they end up at home having fun(video games all day – sleeping, etc.) The problem really is with the parents – or lack of parenting in general. If the teachers and administration could “Fire” these students then maybe things would change. When did the administration lose this control ? I remember students getting expelled for much less than what is put up with today.

Ateacher

November 27th, 2011
12:23 pm

As a teacher, I’ve actually had administrators destroy original discipline referrals and rewrite and recode the infraction in order to avoid reporting the truth. One, in particular, was hit in the face with a plastic tray in the cafeteria this year during a food fight – I’d call that karma. You can’t ignore discipline problems and expect them to simply go away. Of course, this same principal turned around and held a mandatory faculty meeting and basically blamed the teachers for failing to support the administration in helping to maintain order and discipline in the school.

Prof

November 27th, 2011
12:30 pm

@ Maureen.

I smell another excellent series of news stories by AJC’s investigative reporters.

Andre

November 27th, 2011
12:47 pm

Please don’t be naive when it comes to troubling issues in our public schools. They’re getting money from the taxpayers. The slightest piece of negative publicy can ruin a school system in the media. Hence APS. I’m sure most people wouldn’t even think about enrolling their kids into Atlanta schools. Bomb threats, fights, shooting, weapons brought to schools. I graduated from Fayette County schools and there were plenty of things that went on that did not make the news. Sometimes a letter may have been sent home, other times, it was just kept quiet.

Digger

November 27th, 2011
12:54 pm

Take a walk in the halls between classes in some of these schools. Feel the change in your heart rate as your body subconsciously goes into ‘fight or flight’ response.

___

November 27th, 2011
12:55 pm

You’re not going to find those videos on youtube; they’re on facebook where you have to have permission to access them.

Insider

November 27th, 2011
12:56 pm

Where have you been? This also happens a lot in high performing schools!! Many things are hidden by schools. Check how athletes stay on the field! Ever wonder why some top athletes never go to top colleges or to college at all… Its all about perception.

@Dekalbite@Maureen

November 27th, 2011
1:01 pm

Why didn’t your young relative press charges? If the administration did not call the police, the teacher should have. A teacher is not just responsible for his/her safety. Rather, a teacher is ultimately responsible for the safety of every one of his/her students. The students’ safety is more important than their academic progress. If the administration does not act responsibly, the teacher must do whatever is necessary in order to ensure students are safe.

Jimmy

November 27th, 2011
1:09 pm

@Maureen- Newton County. Dozens of discipline issues have gone unreported or filed because of image issues. Also, several issues with GHSGT and EOCT improper procedures being followed that the admin and the county officials knew about but teachers were bullied into resigning or threatened with firing if they said anything and all just disappeared. It even went all the way up to the state office and an investigation was supposedly opened but it quickly went away too. I can’t tell you how many discipline referrals ended up in the trash can, and I’m not talking about minor things- I’m talking major offenses.

Response to Maureen

November 27th, 2011
1:13 pm

Regarding the fights & video, students are very aware and do talk. They don’t always share with parents. If I recall correctly, when my children attended a local school, the rule was that if a fight started, any nearby students were required to disperse immediately or be considered part of the problem. If they were caught watching a fight, they were suspended along with the two kids fighting.
Parents have whispered for many years about students being caught with pictures or video on their phones related to fighting or nudity. Keeping in mind the prevalence of smart phones, students are often in possession of information and media originating in email, on facebook or text messages; some of it un-requested. In one instance, a student claimed to have been punished for video of a fight that happened off campus and on the weekend.
I suppose you could conceivably text an inappropriate photo to a student and then go report it to an administrator, resulting in their punishment? Even if a student is caught with something on their phone that shouldn’t be there, it seems highly irresponsible (not sure about the legality) for the schools to ask students (usually minors) to make a written statement prior to parents arriving, even if only to “straighten things out” or “gain a better understanding”
Parents will always keep this kind of thing quiet in order to protect their children’s reputation, so school administrators know they will rarely, if ever, be challenged.

Jenny

November 27th, 2011
1:14 pm

Being that this column has a net sub-zero effect on education, I’d say bury it.

There is no greater drain on education than the power given the community by an entertainment driven media. In the days of ‘journalism’ – long gone for sure – the is space, this blog, at best might have seen life with The Enquirer.

1. Using a substitute teacher as the driving force of your ‘article’ underscores my point.

2. The ‘tweetie-bird’ chain was 12″ long, thus violating the very demands made by the communities following the media’s fanning of the Columbine murders. This case merely gave the public what it had demanded and then they dumped it on the school when they saw the idiocy of their own wishes.

Ever wonder why the media and the community fervor it stirs for entertainment purposes are left out of the decisions made by the surgeons in our operating rooms?

Ever wonder why NFL teams don’t base their game decisions on what the community and the local writers think they ought to do?

Because when you want/need it done right, you ask the people who are qualified to make decisions. It’s called ‘credibility.’

The ills of education stem from a lack of such filter.

Arlen

November 27th, 2011
1:17 pm

There is a Language Arts teacher at a high school in the *SOUTH*ern part of *GWINNETT* county who recently was arrested for his second DUI (marijuana)! This wasn’t publicized either, but everyone knew about it the very next morning.

Jimmy

November 27th, 2011
1:20 pm

@Jenny, Are you really that dense? First of all it is a blog entry, not a news article. Second of all, does it matter that it was a sub? The sub witnessed something, and it doesn’t matter if it was a parent, a sub, a janitor, etc. Third, plenty of current and former teachers are on here backing up what we all pretty much know happens. And finally, it DOES have an effect on education. A child can’t receive a decent education if real problems are being swept under the rug in favor of image. I have always maintained, if you deal with the problems then the rest takes care of itself. Our schools and our schools will improve if we simply get tough on some of these problems, big or small. When you ignore the small issues they eventually become big ones in schools. You may not like relying on the media to bring attention to the ills in our education system but I can tell you from experience that if you wait for the administrators and suits making six figures to make change then that change will NEVER come.

Digger

November 27th, 2011
1:20 pm

He wanted to be on the same level as his students.